Sunday, April 8, 2012
Gospel Trumps Culture?
Photo of David Ellison's grave in Kombol. He gave his life as a pioneer missionary to Cambodia, bringing the good news of the gospel in 1923
I once heard Presbyterian Minister Scott Dudley say that “Gospel trumps culture.” I like the saying because it should be true and I want it to be true but rarely (I say rarely) have I ever seen it worked out in people’s lives-maybe Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Wilberforce, Dr. Martin Luther King, Kevin Knight, Pastor Abraham, and few other heroes of mine. Most of us take the gospel on our own terms and develop intricate rationales to explain away the parts that call for too much difficult change, especially change that that might challenge our comfort and security. Living with uncertainty about tomorrow is, in itself, overwhelming, and fear of not having guaranteed security in the form of a myriad of security nets for tomorrow is a close second. But isn’t that what the real gospel calls us to? To walk out naked into the darkness of uncertainty for the sake of the gospel? Our culture has conditioned us to think we should be in control of everything. If only we realized how fragile our lives really are and how much we are not in control of things, we would flee to God. Is it not fear that encourages us spend our time arguing for correct doctrine (according to our interpretations) as a subconscious smoke screen to avoid considering just how to live out the truth of gospel which Jesus calls us to? The truth of the gospel is that Jesus came to earth to demonstrate what God’s character is like to the world. In his example of becoming human and moving into our neighborhood, Jesus chose to demonstrate God’s character in an incarnational way. He became one of us in the form of a refugee, a fugitive, an expatriate, a repatriate, a(as Sarah Palin so fondly puts it) Joe Six-pack type, a criminal, and finally as an outcast. In his missional (the nature of being sent out) expression he crossed economic, ethnic, religious, geographic, gender and class barriers to incarnate the gospel among the outcasts of society, those who were marginalized. Noah was sent and he went. Abraham was sent and he went. Moses was sent and he went. Daniel was sent and he went. Nehemiah and Ezra were sent and they went. John the Baptist was sent and he went. Same with Jesus, Paul, Peter and the rest of them. Some left great wealth behind but all left their safety nets behind. Do you see a theme here? Christians are called to be Pilgrims on a journey not settlers, but settlers we have become. We have settled down in this world and love the comfort and security it affords us. And, what was the reward for those who left it all? Jail, loneliness, beatings, flogging, and often death. It often seems like God demands too much, and even abuses and overworks those that obey by going. The truth of the gospel that God calls us to live out was demonstrated to us by Jesus and the Apostles. This is the example Jesus left us to follow. He did not give us a choice between being a Pilgrim or settler. Here is what I did, you go and do likewise. Does gospel really trump culture?
Not too long ago I listened to a sermon series on ‘Biblical’ financial integrity. The sermons were about stewardship, saving to put the proper safety nets in place, saving for possible crises/calamities that come up, and putting money away for college for our kids- and of course tithing. I was wondering with all those safety nets and back up plans, how could one ever fall into the hands of our God for his shaping purposes? We’ve spent all our time and money assuring ourselves that God’s shaping through suffering, crises, and calamity will never happen to us. If we insist on being exempt, I think God will allow that- but to our detriment. Does Gospel trump culture? Not when we can’t tell the difference anymore. If only Scott Dudley (who says that the gospel trumps culture) was right, we could turn this world upside down.
My last three years in the States brought home that Christians equate more Bible knowledge with spirituality. Sermons are just laden with information more than ever before. Every sentence is planned and executed to deliver the most efficient and effective sound bite. People are swimming in information yet they seem to be no closer to living out the truth of the gospel with more of this knowledge. Pastor Dudley, I think, has a PhD. in Literature (don’t quote me though on that)and by the way, is one of the few preachers whose sermon comes not in the form of an information dump, but as a catalyst to initiate a conversation between the congregants and God.
On most Sundays, and at most churches, people are off to get a ‘how to lesson.’ Gosh, it is so nice one someone fosters an actual dialogue with God on a Sunday morning. The one thing God hates more than the 7 deadly sins is to be left out of the conversation. And we do that every Sunday when we agree to receive the information dump. I listened to Pastor Rick from Imago Dei preach and I wondered why his sermon was so easy to listen to. He wasn’t marketing anything, he didn’t use a Ppt. presentation, and he didn’t say anything sensational or controversial. He just took the language of God, and put in the language of the people in the form of a conversation we could engage in.
Does gospel trump culture? I recently listened to a sermon by Francis Chan from the Berkley area. He is in his late 30’s. He was saying, “I don’t understand Christian older people. They buy more and more insurance policies, build in more safety nets, and continue to buy more material things in each passing year. But each year they get older, they are one step closer to walking into glory where there will be millions of angels around the throne shouting glory to an unfathomable God day and night. Since they’re that close, shouldn’t they be giving away all their things to the poor, and go out to do really crazy and risking ministry stuff because any second they just might burst glory where things and safety nets are meaningless? I just don’t get it.”
What I do get, is that God gave me a huge gift when he took everything away,and when it was all gone, I realized there was nothing left to fear. I now know what real freedom is like. I am free to missional and incarnational, and what a joy it truly is!